Thursday, March 28, 2013

Movies 101 – Persona

Persona – 83 min – NR

Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a young nurse who is charged with caring for a stage actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann) who has stopped talking.  The doctors can’t explain why she has stopped talking so the head administrator suggest that Alma and Elisabet go to her coastal cottage to convalesce and see of that will help Elisabet to relax and get her voice back. While they are there Alma does all of the talking and Elisabet listens to her and starts to analyze her as if her nurse was a character study.  The two start to get a closer relationship and at times it almost seems like Alma is the one who needs the emotional help.  Alma starts to resent Elisabet and the two almost exchange places.  They leave the cottage separately without affection.

Now that synopsis really does not do this film justice.  It’s so much more a visual journey than a normal story people are used to today.  The prelude to the film has a lot of snap images that set the emotional tone of the film. Right off the bat this film put you in an uneasy state.  There is a small boy to sits up in what looks like a hospital bed and is looking at the blurry image of what looks like the main characters. After watching the movie that set up made me think that it starts out with the merging of these two people.  They the set and costume is all very barren, as if to give no distraction for the emotional journey of Alma.  Elisabet gives a wonderful performance with nothing more than her eyes and facial expressions.  There was some really great film work with using a break in the film to symbolize the break in their relationship.

This is the first Ingmar Bergman movie I have seen. I am intrigued by his imagery and his ability to tell a story. His minimalist approach of giving the subject a chance to sit front and center of the story is a refreshing change to my usual film experiences. One notable scene in this film is how Alma describes how Elisabet is a cold and remorseless woman who got pregnant only because she was told that she has everything except the experience of motherhood.  The first part of this scene was only  focused on Elisabet face as Alma goes through the events of this story, the very next scene is the same story only seeing Alma’s face and the two faces merge one half is Alma the other is Elisabet.  They are framed in complete symmetry.

My Take Away:

The influences of this film can be seen in other films like Mulholland Drive, Love and Death use the scene set up of having bother characters in the shot but one looking off screen right or left and the other character looking directly toward the camera with their eyes on the other character.  Visually the overlap almost gives the two characters a single body. The best way to describe it is when I saw this I thought it was one half of the brain talking to the other half.  Alma is the analytical side and Elisabet is the creative side.

I feel like today the story telling part of the movies that are coming out today are more focused on profit than substance.  Yes it’s a business and yes they are in it to make money.  BUT Ingmar Bergman was quoted as saying this about his work on this film.

“At some time or other, I said that Persona saved my life—that is no exaggeration. If I had not found the strength to make that film, I would probably have been all washed up. One significant point: for the first time I did not care in the least whether the result would be a commercial success…”

There has to be something freeing about an artist performing their art without the baggage of making money. And that is what this movie feels like to me, an opening of his soul and expression of his sprit.

What other movie do you know of that was a labor of love without regard of finical gain? 

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